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Keidel: Where Will LeBron James Be Playing This Time Next Year?

His Choice Could Reveal His True Goal

May 24, 2018 - 1:37 pm

Watching LeBron James shoulder yet another band of minions deep into May has most NBA fans frothing at the prospect of King James moving westward. Maybe he takes his talents to Houston, Los Angeles or San Antonio, where he'd elbow his way though a forest of fantastic clubs to bag at least one more NBA title. 

Why?

Maybe this season is little more than an NBA version of "Dead Man Walking" toward the NBA Finals, when James and his emaciated Cavaliers would be quickly executed by the Warriors or Rockets. Provided they nudge by the Boston Celtics, of course, which is hardly a fait accompli. Indeed, if Boston wins one of the next two games -- and the team that wins Game 5 to go up 3-2 wins the series 83 percent of the time -- James will find himself outside the NBA Finals fishbowl for the first time in eight years, a testament to his greatness and dominance. 

But if we all concede -- and we all do -- that the Western Conference is an endless minefield of gritty and gifted teams, then why strip LeBron of his gold-plated path to June? At least keeping his crown east of the Mississippi would all but assure him a place in the championship round, when anything can happen, as we learned two years ago when James won his third ring by leading a miraculous comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the 73-win Warriors.

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If James' main goal is to get a fourth ring, then he needs to keep it to Cleveland or a team better built in the same time zone. The Cavs are cap-strapped with only one other bona fide star on the squad, Kevin Love, who's getting perilously old and injury prone. So if James wants to keep it east, the only obvious pseudo-super-team he could cobble together is in Philadelphia, where he could join Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

If that hardwood trinity remained healthy, not even the Celtics and their wunderkind head coach, Brad Stevens, could thwart the new-look Sixers. Then LeBron still wouldn't hit his most daunting roadblock until June. But if he joins the war-torn Western Conference, he could get bounced in almost any round.  

So the real question isn't whether James should go west for basketball purposes. The real question is whether basketball is still his singular obsession. If he heads to Los Angeles to become a Laker, as many NBA legends have during the second halves of their careers, then many think it would be to advance his Hollywood aura, not his hardwood legacy. The Lakers are nowhere near contending with the Warriors, even if they land James, Paul George or both. (Plus he'd be faced with the eternal migraine called LaVar Ball.) Houston may be too Chris Paul dependent, and you don't see too many 34-year-old point guards fast-breaking to NBA titles. San Antonio would only be an option if Kawhi Leonard stays, and he and the Spurs seem to be teetering on the edge of divorce. 

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HBO recently ran a "Real Sports" segment on Shaquille O'Neal. The iconic big man has turned his epic size and affable mien into a corporate behemoth, using those goofy TV ads as media springboards into incredible wealth. James may not be as large or funny as Shaq, but surely he has eyes on stretching his brand and his bank toward billionaire status. Just as he does on he court, LeBron's always got one eye on his next play.

So while we muse over his next move, we have to understand James' motivation. And history has shown us we can read him only so far. He shocked us with his migration to Miami. He stunned us with his move back home. He inspired a forlorn sports town by beating the "greatest team ever" in the NBA Finals. Now he's surely tired of lifting a sagging band of vets and vagabonds every spring only to be slaughtered in the summer. 

Wherever LeBron James goes after his last game this season will tell us everything about his goals next season. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel